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One Billion Rising, B.C. style: Women dance in peace and solidarity

Curious pedestrians stopped to watch. A man in a taxi stared out the back-seat window. A nearby sidewalk vendor with a kazoo and crazy red costume sold Valentine’s trinkets to passersby.


But as darkness descended last Thursday, thirteen women in downtown Vancouver, BC, Canada focused on slow, spontaneous movement, in silent unison. We were part of the global solidarity dance One Billion Rising, held on Valentine’s Day as a symbolic demand to end violence against women and girls. (The name of the event, created by Eve Ensler’s organization V Day, refers to the reality that one in three females on earth will be beaten or raped in her lifetime, which amounts to more than a billion women.)

While women in cities around the world gyrated, sang, and held flash mobs, our group, arranged in a line, clutched a long, rolled-up red cloth. We lay it on the ground in front of the old courthouse steps on Robson Street, now part of the Vancouver Art Gallery. This defined our space, as a symbolic boundary, while a supportive male friend watched our belongings.


With informal facilitator Ingrid Rose, we took turns leading an improvised series of synchronized movements, decided in the moment by each rotating “leader.” Some of us used flashlights to spark the night as we all clasped hands to our hearts, raised arms skyward, bent down to touch the earth, and maintained an ongoing fluid flow of motions with our arms and legs.

I learned that such group movement with no set pattern or formation, yet with everyone doing the same motions, is called “flocking.”


This group activity, embodying the intention of nonviolence, felt like a combination of tai chi, yoga in motion, and Gabrielle Roth’s “flow” rhythm. All but one of the women were strangers to me, yet sharing this collective action felt like an ongoing hug from warm friends. We came together, we cared, we acted, without attachment to others’ reactions, and without fear in the night.


We danced not as spectacle or as separate performance, but as an extension of everyday life. Beside us, a First Nations man displayed hand-carved wooden masks, laid out on the steps for potential buyers. Electric trolley buses rattled past. From the top of the steps, a drunk man with a beer can heckled us briefly, then ignored us.

We were dancing both for ourselves and for women and children everywhere. Some in the group cried out or intoned as we danced. After forty minutes, we stopped and formed a circle. Without any planning or discussion, we each spontaneously called out words or phrases that our dance had inspired, things like “empowerment,”  “peace,” and “safety.”


Under a crescent moon, amidst the harsh lights and noise of the city, it was a rare opportunity to extend and experience a soulful presence. It invited us to redefine our relationships through peace, not just with others, but with ourselves.

In Sechelt on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, about 25 women and one man danced at Trail Bay Mall in front of Clayton’s supermarket as part of One Billion Rising.  As Jan Jensen led a lively group to song lyrics that celebrated women, more than two dozen people watched and clapped in appreciation. Dance participant Wendy Crumpler says: “It was amazing: a very moving experience as well as being fun. Afterwards, there was this wonderful feeling of having done something together that was important.”

Click here to see video of One Billion Rising event in Sechelt.

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February 19, 2013 at 9:49 pm
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